Big move a lesson in faith


MARIE COMBE was so stressed when she found out her husband Arnaud’s job with the French diplomatic corps would be taking them to Canberra for three years that her back seized up.

“It just blocked and I couldn’t move,” she says. “It was a shock because, for me, Australia was very far.”

The thought of moving their five young children from their home in Paris to the other side of the world, to a country whose language she barely spoke, was daunting at first.

“But, after the shock, I was very excited,” Marie says, as she realised what an opportunity it would be for her children to expand their language and social skills.

She immediately set building on her limited and rusty schoolgirl English. After 18 months in Canberra, those skills have expanded considerably, though she still apologises for her limited vocabulary.

The children, meanwhile, speak the local lingo easily after participating in the introductory language program through Hughes Primary School and now attending the French-Australian school at Telopea Park.

The family has embraced the Canberra and Australian way of life. Having come from an apartment in the middle of Paris, Benilde, 13, Amedee, 11, Domitille, 9, Amicie, 6, and Sibylle, 4, love their big garden with its trampoline and pool.

“And they also love this,” Arnaud says, pointing to the barbecue outside the back door.

Benilde says they found a French friend at school who helped them adjust to their new life and language, and now they have a good mix of friends from French, Australian and other nationalities.

One of the main reasons the family has settled so well in Canberra is their involvement in the Catholic community.

Arnaud and Marie say members of St Benedict’s parish at Narrabundah, including the MGL brothers and sisters, have gone out of its way to make the family welcome. They have especially enjoyed being part of a more intimate parish than they had in Paris.

“It was like our family across the other side of the world,” Marie says, referring to one parishioner in particular, who gave them somewhere to stay while they were waiting for furniture for their house and helped Marie with the logistics of renting a house while Arnaud was busy at work.

“I will remember this for the future when we are back in France. I will always be careful with new people because it’s been such a good experience for me.”

The family also likes to go to Sunday Mass at the cathedral and take part in parish and Archdiocesan events. Benilde has joined his parish youth group and the two older girls have taken part in the Little Flowers Catholic girls’ club.

Arnaud says his time in Canberra has shown him what it means to be part of the Catholic “family”. “I hadn’t had the opportunity to feel like the Catholic Church was such a family until we got here.”

At the same time, their faith has given them something familiar to relate to.

“When we say the Church is universal, it is often something we say and don’t really understand,” Arnaud says. “But, arriving here at the bottom of the world, now we understand – we’re all from the same faith.”